Day 3 At the Horsemastership Clinic: Gymnastics

Jan 7, 2010 - 5:18 AM

Hi Everybody,

Wow, what a working day. Again waking up at 4 a.m. in order to get to the stables and start the preparation. It was a very brutal and cold morning. It was around 25 degrees, and boy I thought Florida was going to be hot and sunny.

Nevertheless, Reed Kessler and I were the first ones to arrive along with Victoria Birdsall. Everything we did consisted of: feeding, cleaning the stall, brushing, longing and making sure the horse was 150 percent ready, not 100 percent, because that would be average…

Luckily for yesterday’s second-group riders, we got to go first today, so not a lot of waiting was involved. George had set a gymnastics course that had two liverpool verticals, which we went on to do in a figure eight after the flatwork.

Again, we got all our horses submissive on the flat and proceeded with ground cavalettis. This time, George got on my horse, a bay named Camiro, and he jumped him over both liverpools on a figure of eight at the gallop.

The rest of the gymnastic course included a quadruple combination—a flowing three-stride line to a short one stride, and an even shorter two stride (which my horse with George put a one in the two, and Christy DiStefano’s horse as well).

Friends, a real bank is a real bank. Aachen, Germany, has a real bank. In the International Ring in Wellington, it’s called a “banquette.”

George impressed us all with his French speaking, and he explained how he taught the French way, the French cavalry way. The way the French determined whether or not they would utilize the horse in combat was that his spirit and bravery would first be tested. He would run down steep hills and jump over great barriers. The horse would never be resistant, because if he was during battle…God bless his jockey.

All riders jumped the banquette in both directions. Jump up it, and it would be five or six strides to a bounce, which was set at 10′ on one side and 14′ on the other, going down it in a nice five or six strides as well.

We practiced freedom, we practiced rideability, we practiced straightness.

“This overflexing that is done today is way too excessive and very incorrect. I don’t dislike contraptions, tricks or draw reins…I hate them! They are the devil. The easiest problem can be fixed by riding the horse into the contact by pushing him forward with the legs and simply elevating the hands so that the horse accepts the bit and contact,” George told us.

At the end of both sessions, all of us riders were very satisfied with our performances, but we also had learned a great deal. It’s amazing how much more satisfied you feel when you’ve done well knowing that you woke up at 4 a.m. and got the horse ready yourself.

Let me be clear, there are many ideas that lead people to believe that someone can be a good rider but not a good horseman. All the great riders were great horse masters. Knowing what boots your horse is wearing, what he ate last night for dinner, what he ate for breakfast. All these things are crucial to know when riding a horse at the top level.

After the riding sessions ended, we hung up our spurs, put on our sneakers and gathered around together in a tack room (as it was warmest there), and Laurie Pitts spoke to us about proper horse care within the barn.

Then at 2:30 p.m. we went over to the tent to have a meeting with Purina Mills director and feed specialist Dr. Mary Beth Gordon. She precisely went over all the basic things about the horse and all of the different kinds of feed that Purina makes.

This was the day that I was anxiously awaiting. Who out there, like me, wants to know exactly what feed our horses should be getting? When, why and how much? I am starting to get a really good understanding of this, as it’s like your own kitchen. I love eating healthy food, because afterwards I always feel better. Horses need a healthy and balanced food program, so that they can feel not just good, but great!

Also, for all the junior riders out there with curiosity like me, always pay attention to what your horse is consuming, because it makes a huge difference in tomorrow.

“So many of today’s trainers overdo the supplementing and bad feed mixes. I can walk through the show grounds and find inconsistencies with most feed programs,” said Dr. Gordon.

Finally we got a little break to eat! Food, food, food…Whole Foods! We performed our afternoon duties and awaited a special movie screening of the major horse shows by great American riders from the 1950s!

6:30 p.m. was here, and we all gathered around at the White Horse Tavern.

Jackie Lubrano would not stop making me laugh, along with the others.

Apparently, I’ve been given the title “The Questioner.” Yes, I ask a lot of questions, but only because questions equal more knowledge, and more knowledge is more power. Therefore, I love my unofficial title.

The movies started, and I wanted to drop to the floor. The beginning started a little rough with a few Russian riders running around on these hot Thoroughbreds in Wiesbaden, Germany. Then, the smoother stylists came along, such as Frank Chapot, Nelson Pessoa and, of course, George Morris.

I was in awe watching this classical way of riding and the way it has evolved.

Evolution is something that lights a spark in me. The way things change, either for the better or for the worse. In some ways, in my opinion, I believe it’s gone in incredible directions. However the idea of evolution doesn’t necessarily mean the dropping of old methods and classical techniques that are proven to work!

Overall, it was amazing to see the great riders and great horses compete—George Morris winning the Grand Prix of Aachen, with the Americans first, second and third!

Tomorrow, we do another day of gymnastic exercises and other activities, which I will be back to talk about!

Thanks for reading in. I’m pretty sure I covered everything, so good night.

Until tomorrow,


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